Agreeing to change the start time of the Upper Delaware Council’s monthly meeting from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. came easily with a unanimous vote from members present at the February 2 meeting in Narrowsburg. Approving a comment letter on the Pond Eddy bridge project, however, brought yet another lengthy discussion after which the UDC sent the letter back to committee for revision.
Currently at issue is the design of the bridge, which crosses the Delaware River connecting Pond Eddy, NY to Pond Eddy, PA and is listed on the National, New York and Pennsylvania Historic Landmark Registers.
Built in 1905, the bridge provides the only means in or out of the small Pennsylvania community of approximately 24 properties and 12 full-time families. Repair or replacement of the structure has been a matter of impassioned debate for many years as issues of safety, cost and character are argued by residents, municipal officials, state and federal agencies and other interested parties.
A decision to finally replace the bridge with a modern structure is again being met with requests for reconsideration. Due to deterioration, the original weight limit of 18 tons has been reduced to seven tons, with PennDOT planning a 30-foot-wide bridge capable of holding 40 tons and similar to the bridge connecting the communities of Shohola, PA and Barryville, NY. The $12 million cost of the new bridge would be shared by both states ($4 million each) and the federal government.
But while a recent meeting of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway committee resulted in a resolution asking that the decision to replace the bridge be reconsidered in favor of restoring the current Petit Truss bridge to a carrying capacity closer to 20 tons, members of the UDC heard lengthy discussion that led to rejection of a draft letter on the matter.
UDC chair Nadia Rajsz began by saying, “No one wants to be an obstructionist to stop the bridge from being built, but the cost is excessive. I question the size and the amount of money that New York has to expend in today’s disastrous financial times.”
George J. Fluhr Sr. then read a prepared statement chiding the UDC. “After Shohola Township has had the support of the council on this item for over 20 years, both I and the township supervisors were surprised and shocked that this letter had been proposed,” he read. “As the letter itself says, the UDC does not wish to cause any further delays or escalation of the costs. Yet, this letter would do exactly that.”
Rajsz responded, “Is there a way to tone down the size of the bridge so that it is more fitting to the rural character of the river valley?”
“The simple answer is no,” said Fluhr. “There are state and federal requirements that determine size.”
Fluhr challenged the UDC to look at the future. “Eventually this bridge is going to lead into a very, very large area of gameland and forestland, which is almost totally unused today,” he said. “The opportunities years from now are going to be tremendous. Coming some day, there will be a commuter train from New York City.”
Town of Highland representative Andy Boyar advocated for approving the letter. “Someone has lost sight of common sense here in building a $12 million bridge to serve 12 permanent residents. If PA wants to access those state gamelands, which go all the way to Route 6, they can access it through Commonwealth roads. Our town is sending a letter to the state DOT saying, ‘We’re wasting money here. This is New York’s Bridge to Nowhere.’”
William Rudge of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation suggested retooling the letter. “Our role is to comment on how this structure is compatible or not with the character and the natural resources of the Delaware River, not on how it impacts the pocketbooks of the residents of NY or PA. I think those are valid concerns, but that’s not the council’s expertise.”
Town of Deerpark representative David Dean, who earlier in the meeting had complained about the costs of the proposed Scenic Byway Visitors Center, wryly concluded, “So a $12 million bridge makes a $1 million visitor’s center look like a deal, doesn’t it?”
During the approximately two-year period during which the new bridge would be constructed, a dike would be built across the river requiring river users to portage around the obstruction, according to National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Sean McGuinness. “They’re still discussing what the bridge will look like, but the dimensions are established,” he added. “Once designed, the bridge still must pass through Section 7 review by the NPS to see if it has any adverse effect on the river, and if it does, then it doesn’t get built.”
The next public bridge meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on February 14 at the Shohola Township Building, 159 Twin Lakes Road, Shohola, PA to continue discussing design options.
In other matters, the UDC is planning a day-long workshop for a River Management Plan review in March targeting UDC members, NPS staff and members of local town boards, township boards, planning boards and zoning boards.
Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) chief administrative officer Richard Gore reported that DRBC commissioners have continued to delay taking action on the agency’s proposed natural gas regulations. “Nothing has changed,” he said. “The commissioners are still in discussions and it is still under consideration by them.”
For more information visit www.up  perdelawarecouncil.org or call 845/252-3022. The UDC meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at its offices on 211 Bridge Street in Narrowsburg. The public is welcome.